$12-Million Opportunity Center Planned for Former Gelato Factory on Baltimore Street

| October 27, 2021 | 0 Comments

West Baltimore Renaissance Foundation press release: 

In its first year of operations, the West Baltimore Renaissance Foundation (WBRF) has awarded more than $3.5 million in grants to 40 organizations that are either based in West Baltimore or have a partnership with an organization in the area. WBRF was created as part of LifeBridge Health’s 2019 acquisition of Grace Medical Center (the former Bon Secours Baltimore Hospital) as part of the health system’s agreement to invest in the West Baltimore community to improve social determinants of health, ranging from employment to food access. 

Although related to the LifeBridge Health acquisition, WBRF functions as a separate nonprofit organization with an independent board of health and community leaders who oversee grant awards in four key areas: workforce development, food access, population health and youth mentoring programming. 

“At the West Baltimore Renaissance Foundation, our mission is to empower West Baltimore residents and communities through strategic investments that expand services, amenities and opportunities that lead to a lasting impact on their health and quality of life,” explains Kurt Sommer, WBRF executive director. 

In launching WBRF, Sommer and his team worked with faith-based, community-based and other local nonprofit leaders to understand the needs of the community and to make them aware of WBRF resources and the application process. Their intent has been to focus first on organizations that are already doing work in the area that know the community, have buy-in from the community and can benefit from additional supports to grow their work. 

Sommer adds, “We are excited to work with a range of very strong, established organizations as well as start-ups who have amazing missions that we are pleased to help grow.  We are excited that our initial awards will support programs to benefit more than 1,000 youth, 500 workforce training opportunities, food services for 700 and a range of needs from financial literacy and homeownership counseling to trauma and violence response services.”

“As WBRF supports the community through care management and workforce development, as well as access to healthy food and family support, it complements LifeBridge Health’s ongoing investment to upgrade facilities and bring in new medical specialties at Grace Medical Center. The West Baltimore Renaissance Foundation is another step in our ongoing commitment to the health of people in West Baltimore,” says Neil Meltzer, president and CEO of LifeBridge Health who serves as WBRF board chairman. 

WBRF awards and grant process

WBRF has two funding opportunities for grantees. The first are small, neighborhood grants of up to $2,500 to support groups in the 21223 zip code, which is the immediate area around Grace Medical Center (located at 2000 W. Baltimore Street). 

These grants support community-building events such as a school supply and backpack drive or a holiday food giveaway or a community meal.  These grants are made in effort to support smaller organizations that may not be able to run full programs but nonetheless provide important but limited services and build community in the process.  Grantees could include 501C3 organizations such as churches.

A second group of funds supports larger, ongoing initiatives around job training, food distribution, financial literacy programs, afterschool activities and the like.  Grants to these organizations support sustained, ongoing programming typically with a range of wrap around or linked services to address a wide variety of needs.  Some organizations prepare individuals for jobs in key careers such as information technology, construction and biotechnology.  Others provide after school, weekend and summer programming for youth with programming that includes food, academics, recreational opportunities, or early career preparation services.  The foundation is also supporting organizations that are providing meals to the community or financial readiness and homeownership programming for West Baltimore.  

WBRF grants awards on a bi-monthly basis.  Organizations interested in applying for these funds should visit the WBRF website for more information on the application process: wbrenaissance.org

Former Gelato Manufacturing Facility to Become Community Opportunity Center

WBRF itself will be contributing to improvements in West Baltimore. 

Renovations should begin soon to convert a former gelato manufacturing facility at 5 N. Calhoun Street (in the Franklin Square neighborhood) into a community opportunity center, located just six blocks from Grace Medical Center. The building is on the strategic W. Baltimore Street corridor where Southwest Partnership and other stakeholders are helping to foster reinvestment and business growth. Total building investment with renovation is estimated at about $12 million dollars.

The 33,000 square foot facility will have a commercial kitchen to support food initiatives. Other plans include a teaching kitchen, classroom, computer lab and community gathering space. 

The N. Calhoun Street center will also have office areas that may be of interest for local nonprofits looking to rent space. Several LifeBridge Health entities will also have space in the facility. These include VSP, the health system’s workforce development arm, and the Center for Hope, which encompasses LifeBridge Health’s violence response and prevention programs. 

A dedication event for the community resource center will take place on October 26. The center should be ready to open by summer 2022. 

“We are so excited about the future of the West Baltimore Renaissance Foundation and the positive impact we hope to have on the health of people in West Baltimore. We look forward to continuing to work with our community members and other partners to create a growing, healthy and thriving West Baltimore community,” concludes Sommer.

Current images of 5 N. Calhoun Street from West Baltimore Renaissance Foundation

Renderings from PI.KL

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News releases from various sources around South Baltimore.